NBC unveils streaming service for ‘comedy nerds’

October 15, 2015, 6:30 PM UTC
2014 NBC Upfront Presentation
"The Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon.
Photograph by Slaven Vlasic — Getty Images

NBCUniversal thinks comedy nerds hold the key to carving out a niche in the crowded SVOD market.

On Thursday, the Comcast-owned company finally unveiled the new comedy-only subscription streaming service first reported to be in development back in March. Called “Seeso,” the service will launch widely in January, at which point members can pay $3.99 per month for ad-free access to a full library NBC comedy programming — from new episodes of Saturday Night Live and Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show to all past episodes of classic shows like The Office and 30 Rock — along with a slate of new original series and stand-up comedy specials.

Evan Shapiro, executive vice president of NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises, announced the new service in a presentation Thursday morning in New York, where he hammered home the idea that comedy is the most popular genre for streaming programming and that Seeso aims to provide content curated for and by “comedy nerds.”

Seeso will also have original programming

“We started with the DNA of great NBC comedy” and expanded the concept from there, Shapiro said at the press event. When subscribers visit Seeso, they will be greeted by a launch page where comedy programming will already be playing and can be watched while they search the site for additional content. Shapiro said NBCUniversal hopes to draw in users with already popular NBC titles like SNL and Parks & Recreation, but the company plans to hold onto those customers by recommending a range of additional content — particularly original and acquired programs exclusive to Seeso — as part of selections curated by real people.

Shapiro said Seeso will launch more than 20 original programs in its first year alone and that more new shows and acquisitions will be announced soon. NBC is already leaning on its stable of TV stars to create some of Seeso’s original content, including a variety sketch show produced and hosted by Parks star Amy Poehler and a “fantasy roleplaying” comedy show hosted by Community creator Dan Harmon.

The new streaming service will also be the exclusive streaming home to the full catalog of classic British sketch comedy show Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which has been remastered in HD for the first time, along with Monty Python films. Seeso will also feature the entire remastered collection of Canadian sketch comedy show Kids in the Hall.

Those originals and exclusives are a major sticking point for Seeso, which faces a lot of competition in an extremely crowded market for streaming video options. There is also the issue that a lot of the NBC broadcast content offered by Seeso — including SNL and The Tonight Show — are already available in some form on services like YouTube (which just agreed to let NBC sell ads for its YouTube content) and Hulu (a collaboration of NBC, Fox (FOX), and ABC (DIS)), while full seasons of older shows like 30 Rock are available to stream on Netflix (NFLX). Shapiro said NBC won’t be pulling its content from any of those services, though he added that Seeso is ad-free for subscribers, unlike YouTube and some membership levels of Hulu (which recently added an ad-free, premium membership level).

“By focusing on a specific, yet large niche, and providing a curated experience, we can help viewers find good stuff they might not or cannot find,” Shapiro said in a statement. “Seeso is your neighborhood comedy eatery, with daily specials from a chef you trust.”

Aiming at millennials

With Seeso, NBC has its sights set firmly on the millennial market of 18- to 34-year-olds. The company says this group streams roughly half of all of their video content, and a substantial portion of that is comedy programming. Shapiro wouldn’t reveal any specifics when asked how much money NBCUniversal is spending on original content for Seeso, telling reporters at the press event Thursday that the company is spending “a shit-ton” before noting that the number is in the millions.

Seeso represents NBCUniversal’s latest effort to expand its digital presence, as it follows the recent ad-selling agreement with YouTube (GOOG) as well as investments in BuzzFeed and Vox. NBC parent Comcast (CMCSA) also recently launched a beta version of Watchable, a YouTube-style streaming video service, with content partners such as BuzzFeed, Vice Media and parody news site The Onion.

When Seeso becomes widely available in January (the service is currently in beta-testing), users will have the option of starting off with a free trial that (unlike other rival services) will not require credit card information for the free run. The free trial will not have an end-date, users can play around with the site indefinitely, though they will only have access to roughly 10% to 15% of Seeso’s content unless they pay the monthly fee.